Family Guy: Vol. 6

Andrew Winistorfer

It’ll take a new animated show to call Family Guy out for its indiscretions, much like Family Guy did for The Simpsons.

Family Guy

Distributor: Fox
Cast: Seth MacFarlane, Alex Borstein, Seth Green, Mila Kunis
Network: Fox
First date: 1999
US Release Date: 2008-10-21

Family Guy has an enormous Simpsons problem. It’s the more popular show, but for anyone over 20, it’s perceived as inferior. It’s been trying to move out from behind the long shadow of The Simpsons since its premiere in 1999, and has succeeded/failed to varying degrees. But where it counts the most (the quality of the show), Family Guy is more like The Simpsons than anyone would like to admit—after a few seasons of solid, under the radar comedy, it’s gone populist, and taken to recycling plots and relying on cheap pop culture references for jokes.

Family Guy owes obvious debts to The Simpsons, but that doesn’t necessarily make The Simpsons the superior program—there hasn’t been a truly great Simpsons episode in roughly 10 years, leaving it as the Brett Favre to Family Guy’s Aaron Rodgers. The old form is favored by the old timers (you should have seen it back in 1996!), and the new form is favored by the youngsters (those old shows are dried up and lame!), with both sides being entirely wrong.

The Simpsons was always about pop culture references, but they made sure not to harm the flow of the episode’s pacing to make jokes about The Crying Game. Family Guy’s jokes are more tasteless, and mostly stupid, but they’ve been more inspired over the show’s run against similar episodes of The Simpsons.

The DVD set (“Volume 6”) of the sixth season of Family Guy contains a smattering of cut scenes (all of which could have been cut and pasted at will into any episode), and a bunch of commentaries from cast and production staff. Also curiously included are the original TV-aired episodes, and the one that appears on the DVD (as if anyone watching wants to watch episodes with the swear words beeped out).

Plot has never really been an important device in cartoons (unless it’s the superior to all of Fox’s Sunday cartoons, King of the Hill), but Family Guy takes that to an incredibly bare degree—there’s nothing to demarcate what begins any given season or ends it. The Griffin family (the Homer Simpson-esque Peter Griffin, his wife Lois, kids Chris, Meg, and Stewie, and their talking dog Brian) never changes (except in superficial ways like Peter’s job) and never learns anything. Nothing is important to individual episode but the random references that keep them together.

But Family Guy disrupts any semblance of plot to make said pop culture references. And in season seven, Family Guy hews pretty close to the charges levied at it from South Park: the references are chosen at random by manatees.

These pop culture in-jokes are okay to swallow (by now, Family Guy’s way of making a joke is pretty well established—“You think that’s bad, it’s like the time I ate dinner with Hamid Karzai”) but by this time in the show’s run, I think the writers are growing tired (this is perhaps most evident in the show’s current season, where they’ve made two lengthy Back to the Future references in as many episodes).

Plus, the show’s references used to be outré and catered towards pop culture-philes (how else would you explain lengthy references to Minnie Driver’s huge head, Ben Affleck preparing for acting roles in three minutes on his couch, among thousands others), now they’re aimed at the wider audience the show has (like the previously mentioned Back to the Future references). Often, the references play like segments in The Epic Movie vein—winking references to pop culture items that every person watching Family Guy knows.

Family Guy’s sixth season does have two episodes with something resembling a plot -- a two-episode arc that finds Stewie finally acting on the empty death threats he’s shouted at his mother since the get go. Stewie seizes his opportunity when Lois and Peter go on a vacation without him, and he kills Lois on a cruise ship. This leads to Peter being accused, and an epic court case that ends with Lois not being dead. Stewie flees after Lois tells everyone he’s the culprit, eventually taking over the world. Just when you think Stewie is vanquished for good (after a massive fight between Lois and Brian and Stewie), it turns out the whole two episodes were a simulation that Stewie is running to see what would happen if he killed Lois.

The show gets meta in the conclusion -- Brian says, “So if someone watched the simulation, it would be a total waste of their time?” Stewie responds, “Well, hopefully they would enjoy the ride.” That sentiment proves to be rather fitting, the two episodes were the season’s strongest, as the plot took center stage in order for it to be advanced as far as it needed to go. The references that were tossed in were mostly funny (Lois is saved by a Merman whose top half is a fish head), and served the plot. Unfortunately the momentum established by the two episodes doesn’t carry over to the rest of the season.

When Family Guy was revived by FOX aftet big DVD sales and success in syndication, it was all but pre-ordained that the show would get more extreme in its jokes and go full throttle towards complete irreverence. FOX had already canceled the show twice, and made a big deal about re-launching it, so another cancellation seems impossible. But given the show’s current trajectory and the quality of its recent episodes, you have to wonder how long they can keep it up before a shake-up is necessary. It’ll probably take a new animated show to call Family Guy out for its indiscretions, kind of like how Family Guy did the same for The Simpsons.


From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

Net Neutrality and the Music Ecosystem: Defending the Last Mile

Still from Whiplash (2014) (Photo by Daniel McFadden - © Courtesy of Sundance Institute) (IMDB)

"...when the history books get written about this era, they'll show that the music community recognized the potential impacts and were strong leaders." An interview with Kevin Erickson of Future of Music Coalition.

Last week, the musician Phil Elverum, a.k.a. Mount Eerie, celebrated the fact that his album A Crow Looked at Me had been ranked #3 on the New York Times' Best of 2017 list. You might expect that high praise from the prestigious newspaper would result in a significant spike in album sales. In a tweet, Elverum divulged that since making the list, he'd sold…six. Six copies.

Keep reading... Show less

Under the lens of cultural and historical context, as well as understanding the reflective nature of popular culture, it's hard not to read this film as a cautionary tale about the limitations of isolationism.

I recently spoke to a class full of students about Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". Actually, I mentioned Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" by prefacing that I understood the likelihood that no one had read it. Fortunately, two students had, which brought mild temporary relief. In an effort to close the gap of understanding (perhaps more a canyon or uncanny valley) I made the popular quick comparison between Plato's often cited work and the Wachowski siblings' cinema spectacle, The Matrix. What I didn't anticipate in that moment was complete and utter dissociation observable in collective wide-eyed stares. Example by comparison lost. Not a single student in a class of undergraduates had partaken of The Matrix in all its Dystopic future shock and CGI kung fu technobabble philosophy. My muted response in that moment: Whoa!

Keep reading... Show less

'The Art of Confession' Ties Together Threads of Performance

Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell at St. Mark's Church in New York City, 23 February 1977

Scholar Christopher Grobe crafts a series of individually satisfying case studies, then shows the strong threads between confessional poetry, performance art, and reality television, with stops along the way.

Tracing a thread from Robert Lowell to reality TV seems like an ominous task, and it is one that Christopher Grobe tackles by laying out several intertwining threads. The history of an idea, like confession, is only linear when we want to create a sensible structure, the "one damn thing after the next" that is the standing critique of creating historical accounts. The organization Grobe employs helps sensemaking.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.